Mick Cleary is the Daily Telegraph’s rugby union correspondent and has been covering international rugby for over 30 years.
He gives us his verdict on this weekend’s three RBS 6 Nations matches.
Ireland v Wales (Saturday, 2.30pm)
This will be a fascinating game, given extra piquancy with the potential grudge match between Wales coach Warren Gatland and Ireland’s star centre Brian O’Driscoll. Gatland controversially dropped O’Driscoll in favour of Wales’ Jonathan Davies for the crucial Lions decider against Australia in Sydney last year.
It will also be intriguing to see so many of the Lions squad go head-to-head – Paul O’Connell and Alun Wyn Jones, Jamie Roberts and O’Driscoll, Jamie Heaslip and Sam Warburton, Mike Phillips against Conor Murray – all influential Down Under.
I thought Ireland played well against Scotland last week but it wasn’t a classic performance and Gatland will want this one.
Wales have won more matches at Landsdowne Road than they have lost – and haven’t been beaten away in the tournament since March 2011.
Mick’s Pick: It will be tight but I’m backing Wales to win by 3-5 points.
England v Scotland (Saturday, 5pm)
The Murrayfield pitch has had a terrible time of it of late – there’s been an infestation of worms which have damaged the roots.
The poor surface is likely to play a big part, along with the weather, which never seems to be anything but challenging whenever these two teams meet at Murrayfield. A lot of rain will mean the top surface will cut up easily, so maintaining steady footing will be difficult.
England travel to Edinburgh as the stronger of the two sides, especially on the back of how they played in Paris last weekend. I was impressed with the link-up play between the forwards and backs and if they can keep their footing, it should mean victory.
Scotland have a lot of good players with real potential but their overwhelming problem is their inability to score tries – they haven’t touched down in their previous four home matches against England.
Mick’s Pick: I would expect England to win by at least 12-15 points if it was any other surface, but with the way Murrayfield is I think England will win by 10-12 points.
France v Italy (Sunday, 3pm)
I thought England were 10 points better than France last week.
The French were fortunate to capitalise on the awkward-bouncing ball – though both of those tries were executed very well by Yoann Huget – but the victory will give Les Bleus a huge boost in confidence, especially after last year’s dismal performances.
Italy are no mugs – Sergio Parisse is a world-class number 8 and they are getting more competitive around the park. And don’t forget the Italians beat France in the opening round last year.
Mick’s Pick: I’m tipping France to win by 8-10 points for their second victory, which is more than they managed last year.
MICK’S PLAYER TO WATCH
Toulouse flyer Gael Fickou, who scored the winning try against England at the Stade de France, will be in the French midfield for a decade to come.
The question is when France coach Philippe Saint-Andre believes he’s ready to step up, rather than using him as an impact replacement. He’s such an elegant runner with power and purpose – and only 19. A precocious talent.